Two years into a five-year, $64 million contract, Adrian Beltre has produced a .262 average, 44 home runs, and 176 RBIs. However, after the All Star break in 2006, Beltre slugged .552 with a whopping 18 home runs. Does this strong second half bode well for a turn-around in 2007, or will Mariners fans have to deal with 'A-Drain' once again? This blog intends to follow the 2007 season for Adrian Beltre, and the Seattle Mariners, and promises to hold no punches.

Make it four in a row


With a solid outing by Miguel Batista- who didn't allow any walks in seven innings- and another superlative-filled night by Ichiro, who scored the M's first run and knocked in the second on a bad-hop groudner to Angels first-baseman Casey Kotchamn, last night the M's shut down a team that had scored 34 runs in a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers by a score of 2-0. Oh, and did I mention J.J. Putz striking out Vladimir Guerrero with a fastball up around the Angels slugger's eyelids? Can't forget that.

The highlights were few, but they were dramatic in an exciting game. The fact that the M's were able to keep the Angels scoreless after their offensive outburst in Detroit is why I love baseball: you just never can tell what's going to happen.

Unfortunately, Adrian Beltre went 0-for-4, dropping his average to .277 after it reached a high-water mark of .280. Considering that Beltre is batting a career .219 with seven hits in 32 at-bats against John Lackey, tonight's starter for the Angels, don't look for him to raise his average in tonight's game. It may just seem that Lackey dominates the Mariners in every match-up, but in truth he comes into Safeco with a career 7-8 record and 4.61 ERA against the M's. Raul Ibanez and Ichiro in particular have enjoyed facing the portly right-hander, combining to hit .324 in 102 at-bats, though Lackey has limited them to just five extra-base hits. Richie Sexson has also enjoyed success against lackey, batting .375 with a 1.153 OPS in 24 at-bats.

Angels cast-off Jeff Weaver takes the mound for the Mariners, hoping to have a better outing against his former team than the three runs he allowed in three innings in a 6-1 loss last April 22. Despite his career 5-6 record against the Angels, Weaver holds just a 3.03 ERA against them in 77 home-runs, limiting the damage by giving up just five home runs to Halo sluggers. However, most of the current roster hasn't done much damage versus Jeff. Vladimir does have one home-run against Jeff in 11 at-bats, but Garret Anderson is the Angel batter who has faced him the most, and he's hit just .226 in 31 at-bats. Considering it'll be a roster of unfamiliars facing him, if Jeff is able to get his veriety of arm angles and ball speeds, he may be in store for a confounding evening.

However, the Mariners have also struggled to get Weaver run support despite his current streak of solid outings. I say they're able to give him a handful of runs tonight, but it won't be enough. The Angels will end the M's streak at four, as they come out on top by a score of 6-3.

I Heart Adrian Beltre


When Nick Swisher hit his first-inning home run off Felix Hernandez in yesterday's game, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach: Here we go again. But in the third-inning, Adrian Beltre's bases-clearing double inside the third base line reminds me why I heart (love) the M's third baseman. Couple that game-turning hit with Jose Guillen's mammoth two-run shot in the fourth and you have the makings of a 7-1 Seattle victory. Swisher's third home run in four at-bats was all the A's could manage off Felix "A's Killer" Hernandez- which was just the first run scored by the A's off Felix in 23 innings this season.

So the seven-game losing streak monkey is off the Mariners back as they find themselves back on the positive side of the win-loss ledger. They continue to remain four games behind the Angels, and with the Yankees dropping their game against Baltimore yesterday, the M's are a game ahead of the Yankees in the Wild Card chase, four games behind Cleveland.

The M's will attempt to gain some ground in this afternoon's game, facing the A's Chad Gaudin. Gaudin got off to a great start this season, but like the rest of the A's team has struggled since the All-Star break. In his last three starts, Gaudin has allowed five runs, and hasn't lasted more than six innings in either of them. Granted, the last time Gaudin faced the M's, he allowed two runs over 7.2 innings in a 3-2 victory. But that was a month ago, when Gaudin was pitching well. Gaudin carries a 4.85 career ERA against the M's into this game, unbeaten in two decisions. Raul Ibanez, who has five htis in twleve career at-bats, may be bale to break out of his recent slump against Gaudin, while Richie Sexson has the only M's homer off the right-hander from Louisiana.

Gaudin's opponent on the mound this afternoon is Horacio Ramirez, making just his third start after spending nearly two months on the DL. Ramirez has been unstoppable at Safeco Field this year, unbeaten in five starts, with a 2.27 ERA. Although Ramirez holds a career 7.59 ERA against Oakland, he alos holds a 1-0 record against the A's. Both Mike Piazza and Eric Chavez have hit Horacio hard, but considering that the slumping Chavez has been given sparse playing time all Horacio needs to do is keep the ball away from Piazza. Chavez's replacement at third- Marco Scutaro- is hitless in five career at-bats against Horacio.

I call the M's to pick up anotehr win, as momentum has swung their way with the strong showings of Felix and Guillen in yesterday's game. Today's game may not resemble a pitching duel, but the M's will come out on top, 8-5.

The Mariners and the wrong side of luck


From May 21-28, the M's ripped off six wins in eight games, winning by scores of 10-2 and 12-5, picking up double figures in hits in all but one game to take the top in the league in batting. Luck had nothing to do for the team during this stretch (except for the bad luck that limited them to two runs in a loss to the Indians despite picking up twelve hits). Instead, it was an example of dominating baseball, with all facets of the team- offense, pitching, bullpen, defense- helping whittle their deficit in the division.

A week later the M's won an 11-6 victory over the Texas Rangers amidst a stretch in which the M's won nine out of ten. This stretch, however, was not that of a dominating team, but one that reaped the benefits of luck. I point out this game even though it didn't kick off a winning streak because it was the last game decided by an M's starter in seventeen days, until Jeff Weaver saw it fit to shut out the Pirates and put an end to that ignoble feat. This stretch of wins, which shaved a couple games from the M's deficit, was marked by a series of one-run games (four in a row won by that matter in fact) which is the purest representation of luck benefiting a team: a bounce here, a two-out knock there, favorable calls by the umps, miscues by the opposing side. I'm not saying the M's bullpen didn't step up and do what was needed from them when handed a lead- they did- what I'm saying it was luck that got the lead to the bullpen in the first place. and I expressed some concern on this blog at the time that luck has a chance of flipping in baseball at a second's notice, and that's exactly what happened as this stretch of enjoyable baseball was followed by a season-high six-game losing streak (the first two were one-run games) which dropped the M's to 7.5 games out.

So now here we are. I get shouted down whenever I say the M's have been a lucky team, outplaying what their record should be. Their offense and their starting pitching is pedestrian. Their big bat, I admit it, conjures up the worst of Dave Kingman. Felix is obviously a head case, and perhaps the M's should sign a Pedro or a Glavine (or bring back Moyer?) just to get a veteran in the clubhouse to cool Felix's jets. Its obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that the M's bullpen has been the savior of the season, but during the series against the Rangers I watched crestfallen as Chris Reitsma gave up the game-winning extra base hit to a no-name infielder from the Texas Rangers who had killed the M's all day (anyone else thinking IBB?) I have to wonder if that armor hadn't gotten a big chink in it- right at the most inopportune time of the season to boot, just when the M's were sniffing the Angels' testes. This latest losing streak has, admittedly, seen the M's on the wrong end of some strong starting pitching (seriously- Josh Towers? You can't score against Josh Towers? Really.) But of the six games lost so far, five of them have been one-run losses (including the last four in a row). So you know what that means? It means that the Mariners have been on the wrong side of luck- with runners getting doubled off first, their perfect closer giving up a game-winning home-run in a bandbox of a stadium, all the bounces are currently going against this team. But it will flip around- just like it always does. Fear not my Mariner faithful, do not get despondent. This isn't the Tampa Bay Devil Rays we're talking here. Luck will favor the M's again, and I say sooner rather than later. (I almost thought it was going to happen during the Rangers series with Raul's strikeout that wasn't. Sadly it was not to be....)

As if on cue after such a nightmarish unlucky road trip, the Oakland A's stroll into Seattle for a four-game series. The A's may be the perfect elixir for what's currently ailing the M's. Known for their strong second-halves, instead the A's have won four of thirteen games since the All-Star Break. And just before the break, the M's took three of for from the A's down in Oakland. The opposite of last year, the M's have had the A's number all season long, winning seven of nine, and it brings me much joy to say those words.

The pitching match-up in tonight's first game could potentially be a marquee match-up. It pits Danny Haren, one of the league's best starters, against Jeff Weaver 2.0, who has had a series of quality starts since returning from an arm injury. Haren may have an 11-3 record and 2.41 ERA, but he has lost twice against the M's this season, with the last one giving up four runs in 6.1 innings. Beltre will be licking his chops to face Haren in tonight's game, as Adrian carries a career .448 average against Haren in 29 at-bats, with seven extra-base hits for a 1.328 OPS. The rest of the Mariners' line-up, however, has struggled against Haren, as evidenced by the low career averages of Ichiro (.241), Sexson (.111), and Lopez (.188) against the A's ace.

In his last start against Oakland, Jeff Weaver allowed one run in five innings in a no-decision. Although he's given up three runs or less in seven of his last eight starts, Weaver just has a 2-2 record to show for it. Oakland has roughed up Weaver pretty good during his career, with Jeff allowing 76 hits in 66 innings for a 5.32 ERA, despite a 3-3 record. Eric Chavez has hammered Weaver, with a .440 career average in 25 at-bats, but surprisingly no home runs. Shannon Stewart (11 hits in 40 at-bats) also has some success against Weaver, while Mike Piazza (two hits in twelve) has struggled.

This is a tough game to call. I'd like to pick the M's to finally get some lucky breaks and hand Haren his third loss against them this season- but Haren is far too good a pitcher to imagine he'd have 75% of his losses against the same team. It'd be easy to pick Haren to out duel Weaver in a match-up, but considering Weaver's recent track record, it's not hard to imagine an outing of seven innings, two-run ball from Jeff. it'd be easy to say that the bullpens will decide this game, which means the M's have an advantage, but their recent offensive woes don't give me much confidence that they'd help the bullpen out. In the final analysis, if Beltre is able to hit Haren well, the M's will win. But I doubt he will, so I'll give the nod to the A's in this game (and hopefully this game only) as the M's find themsleves on the losing end of another one-run loss, by a score of 3-2.

Felix "Head Case" Hernandez


For the second start in a row, another missed strike three call by the ump caused Felix to lose his composure. Last week it was Gibbons taking him deep when the inning should have been over, this time around it was Alex Rios who should have been rung up for the second out in the bottom half of the fifth with the bases loaded. Instead, with new life and a 3-2 count, he took the next pitch up the middle to break a scoreless tie and give the Jays a 2-0 lead. As if his body language wasn't enough to show Felix's frustration at that point, his very next delivery was deposited in the seats by Troy Glaus to give Toronto a 5 - nil lead.

Two consecutive pitches, five runs.


That's the way the cookie crumbles, and it's being proven time and time again that Felix lets it crumble fast. Hopefully this is just his youth speaking volumes, and with time, continued health and a bit of luck, Felix may prove to be the ace he's projected as.

Mariner manager John MacLaren was ejected for the first time in his career as he immediately came out and right into home plate umpire Chad Fairchild's face after the home run by Glaus. Maybe this will serve as a boost to the club as they head to Texas to take on the division bottom feeding Rangers, and the club can break out this mini two game losing streak.

Other than the ejection, the lone Mariner player highlight of this game would have to be Brandon Morrow striking out the side in order in the seventh.

Beltre went 1-3 with his 22nd double of the season.

Great Pitching


For the last three games the Mariners have shown us what wins games: pitching.

Aside from a mini meltdown by starter Jarrod Washburn in Wednesday nights 6-5 victory v. the Orioles, our starters and relievers have been unbelievable. It started that night as George Sherrill, Sean Green and JJ Putz combined for 2.2 innings of scoreless ball. With Green earning his third win after Baltimore pitcher Chad Bradford walked BBB with the sacks full.

On Friday night in Baltimore Miguel Batista gave up 2 runs in 5.2 innings v. the Blue Jays in Toronto. He walked three batters and struck out six. He earned his 10th victory of the season, a feat he has now achieved 5 times, and also putting him within one more win from his career high of 11, which he reached pitching behind RJ and Schilling in Arizona in 2001, and again last year in a return to Arizona. This time it was Sean Green, Chris Reitsma and JJ pitching 3.1 innings of scoreless ball to preserve the 4-2 victory.

Today, Jeff Weaver was the tough luck loser in a 1-0 blanking at the hands of the Jays. This time it was the other side dominating, as Toronto starter Josh Towers went nearly seven innings, and three relievers finished it off quickly. Still, Jeff Weaver's 8 inning complete game (his second CG this season), was nothing to overlook as he needed only 88 pitches (63 for strikes) to hold the Jays to one run on four hits, not allowing a walk while striking out four, as he faced only 28 batters (remember, he only went 8 for the CG).

A tough loss indeed, you could have hardly asked more of him, and he gave the bullpen a night off. Very likely the M's second best starting performance this year behind Felix's one hitter at Fenway.

Weaver is now 2-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 8 starts since returning from the DL. During that run he has walked 11 batters, while fanning 28 in 50.2 innings. Saturdays start also saw his season ERA fall from 6.82 to 6.19.

On Sunday, the M's go up against Roy Halladay, who has been struggling lately, but is still one of the best in the game. The M's will counter with Felix, who has given up only 3 runs over 14 innings in two career starts v. the Jays, and has pitched well on the road this season. I say the M's take another series on the heels of a 5-3 win, with JJ earning his 30th save.

Bad Move


Perhaps last night John Maclaren made the first terrible move of his managerial career. The move I speak of was the decision to pull Felix Hernandez after six innings of work. Granted, Felix had given up eight hits and three walks over those six frames, yet, of the 99 pitches he threw, only one resulted in runs for Baltimore- a three run homer by Jay "monkey" Gibbons. That shot came with two outs, and after the ump let Gibbons stay alive after Hernandez could have easily had a called strike three on the upper inside corner. Oh well, tough luck.

My point to be made is that a team should throw their ace back out there when he hasn't even reached the century mark, and is still pitching somewhat effective (8 ground balls to 3 fly balls for Felix= effective). Or else why call him your ace? Let him get through one more inning, keep the game close, and let the cream of the bullpen do their stuff. Or....throw an unproven rookie into a tight situation and watch him give up 5 earned runs in a third of an inning, and watch the game quickly slip out of control.

I hope they second guessed themselves after that.

Beltre went 0-4, stranding three runners and grounding into a double play. Well, at least he didn't strike out.



We should have the ability to have days similar to Ichiro's Tuesday.

After announcing that he and the Mariners have all but come to a terms on a five-year, $100 million deal, keeping Ichiro in Mariners' navy-and-teal through the 2012 season, Ichiro went 3-for-3 on the evening, altering the outcome of the game with the first inside-the-park home-run hit in All-Star Game history, a two-run drive that bounced away from Ken Griffey Jr., knocking in Brian Roberts. With his stellar performance, Ichiro was unanimously voted the game's MVP, adding yet another award to his ever-expanding trophy case.

Thank you Ichiro! You have made the Pacific Northwest, the city of Seattle- and the country of Japan- very proud!

Mariners' mid-season grade report: A solid 'A'


As major league baseball takes a three-day breather so that its best can participate in an exposition game 'that matters', it allows a chance to reflect on the progression of the season for the Seattle Mariners so far. In my pre-season post that I wrote last March I wrote that as a cautious assessment, "the Mariners will be a good team this year" and the best one of the Bavasi-Lincoln era. 85 games into the season, this has proven to be a pretty apt assessment. Of course, this doesn't guarantee anything except that Bavasi will be returning, for at least one more year.

I had the M's pegged to finish the season second in the division with 92 wins, a couple of games behind the Angels. As they're currently on pace for 93 wins- and go into the break 2.5 games behind Los Angeles (of Anaheim), that seems pretty much right on the money. Of course, I also had the M's losing out to the Blue Jays for the Wild Card by a handful of games, and my pick of Toronto to make the play-offs seems wildly off-mark, but one never knows how the second-half can shape out. If the play-offs were held today, Cleveland would just slip into the playoffs ahead of Seattle, but I am still standing firm with my pick of Detroit- with their best pitching staff in the league- to win both the pennant and the World Series.

One area that I greatly exaggerated my predictions, however, was in regards to the M's offense. I was confident that the team would have three 30-home-run hitters: Sexson, Beltre, and Ibanez. If current paces are maintained, the M's are going to lack any 30-home-run hitters at all, with Richie Sexson leading the team with 15, on pace to hit 28. Of course, I did think Sexson would struggle, and be hitting somewhere between .240-.250, and though Sexson is struggling, its hard to imagine that the M's are contending with a first baseman hitting .205, with a .299 on-base percentage.

Those were the numbers I had pegged for Jose Guillen, who I referred to prior to the season as a 'scrub' who would contribute little or nothing to the M's line-up. Playing on a one-year contract with many incentives, however, has inspired Guillen to be a consistent hitter who has filled in Sexson's former spot as the clean-up batter, and heads into the All-Star Break with a .283 average and ten home runs. Ibanez has disappointing power numbers on the year, and is one pace for just eleven home-runs, but is leading the team with 53 RBIs- on pace for 101- proving that with runners on, Raul can deliver. And with Jose Vidro clogging up the basepaths as the DH, this justifies Raul's rather 'interesting' routes to the balls in the field.

The break-out year that I had pegged for Adrian Beltre hasn't quite materialized, but he is on pace for about 25 home-runs and 85 RBIs, above-average numbers for an American League third-baseman. Ichiro has been, well, Ichiro, and if the Mariners' front office doesn't wise up and offer him $100 million-plus to tay in Seattle then they are a grossly incompetent judges of talent.

I had the M's pitching staff to be solid if not spectacular, lacking a solid ace. My numbers for Felix came out to an 11-8 record in 25 starts. Considering his average that was right at .500 for the first part of the season, plus the time lost due to injury, those numbers seemed alarmingly prescient. I did predict better things from Horacio Ramirez, that Jeff Weaver would be a non-factor (which he was for two months before morphing into a savior of the past few weeks), and Cha Seung Baek was my dark horse to be the staff's anchor, which is hilarious to admit. But the starting rotation has delivered quality starts when needed, thus ensuring any long losing streaks, besides one six-gamer, and making sure that the M's are in the game long enough so that it's true weapon- the bullpen- has an ability to be a factor in the game's bullpen.

The bullpen is unquestioningly the reason why the M's are within striking distance as the All Star break begins. With an offense that doesn't put a majority of games away , and a starting rotation keeping games close, the incredible performances by the bullpen has been a joy to witness. I thought Putz would be good, but not other-worldly. Putz is on pace to have 45 saves without blowing an opportunity- which begs the question, if Eric Gagne can be a Cy Young winner due to a perfect season closing games for the Dodgers, can't Putz be the same? All the role players- Sherrill, Green, O'Flaherty- have comprised a dominating corps, which has proven to matched the Angels' dominant starting pitchers, and portends to be an exciting second half of the season.

So what highlights lie in store for Mariners fans in the second half? Hopefully, a call-up of Adam Jones, who has been compared to the likes of Eric Davis and Ken Griffey Jr. Hopefully an announcement of a five-year contract agreed upon between Ichiro and the Mariners' front office. And- let's not get our hopes up too high, but it's nice to dream- without Hargrove around to over-see a second-half collapse, perhaps the M's can out-lasting such teams as the Indians, the Twins, even the Blue Jays, and sneak into a playoff spot. Man, oh man, would that be sweet...

Can the M's take three of four from the A's?


As I write this, Ichiro Suzuki has led off the game with a triple, thus ensuring that Jose Vidro's patented groundball to short results in an RBI rather than a double play. Before this series, I wrote that a split of the four games is the best-case scenario, as the A's had their four best starting pitchers lined up against the M's. That result has been reached with some strong starting pitching performances delivered by Jeff Weaver and Felix Hernandez, who tossed eight innings of two-hit shutout ball in yesterday's 4-0 win. The bat of Adrian Beltre has also contributed mightily to the results of the series so far, as in the three games Beltre has batted 7-for-11 for a .636 average, with three home runs and seven RBIs. Beltre's numbers now stand at a .275 average and .489 slugging on the year- getting close to the power numbers expected by a third baseman, if not quite the assumed numbers suggested at the signing of his free agent contract with the Mariners. And he led off the second inning with an infield hit.

So far in this series, the A's have been helped with strong pitching. Rich Harden may have given up four runs in his abbreviated 66-pitch outing in yesterday's ballgame, but he was replaced by Lenny Dinardo, who tossed 6.1 scoreless innings. That followed the three runs allowed in six innings by Dan Haren )who's 0-2 versus the M's, 10-1 against the rest of the league) on Friday, and the two runs allowed in nearly eight innings by Chad Gaudin on Thursday. The glaring problem with the A's is the woefully punchless offensive trotted out to face opposing pitchers in half the game. The team was buoyed by Frank Thomas' strong season last year, who may have single-handedly helped the team to the playoffs. This year the team would be lost without the help of- Jamie Burke? The resurgence of Jack Cust, who has been a prospect since Clinton was still in the White house? No wonder the A's are sinking while the M's are surging, a welcome change to how baseball seasons usually play out in the AL West.

Despite allowing ten runs over 1.1 in his last at-bat, Feierabend hasn't lost his place in the rotation, and it falls on his shoulders if the M's want to take three of four. Feierabend has yet to face the A's prior to this game, but that never seems to work to the M's advantage, and indeed, Feierabend has just allowed the game-tying homerun to Eric Chavez. As for the home team, M's arch-nemesis Joe Blanton (6-2, 2.74 career numbers versus the M's) takes the mound, and considering Beltre has picked up six hits in 29 at-bats, including one home run, against Blanton, then Joe just might be able to defuse Beltre's hot bat.

Any match-up between Blanton and Feierabend, you're going to have to give the nod to Blanton. I don't think the M's will take three fo four, as the A's will come out on top by a 5-3 score....

1-2 start to the McLaren era


If we're too read anything over this past series versus the Kansas City Royals, it's that Friday and Sunday's games appear to be what to expect from McLaren. It's clear he has the utmost faith in his starting pitching, and willing to let them pitch deep into ball games, as evidenced by the fact that nobody was even warming up in the bullpen as Jarrod Washbrun came out on in the ninth inning of yesterday's 4-0 win. Washburn was all but expected to pitch the complete game, but after allowing the first two batters on, was replaced by J.J. Putz, who picked up the save by getting three outs on two pitches. There was also some aggressive baserunning being utilized in the game's strategy, with Ben Broussard galloping around the bases from first on Adrian Beltre's first-inning double, and Jose Guillen racing to third on a dropped deep fly by Royal centerfielder David Dejesus. It almost appeared that Guillen and third-base coach Carlos Garcia were considering going for the inside-the-park home run, but stopped short and ended up left on base when Broussard popped out.

McLaren is also willing to be inventive with the lineup, inserting Jose Vidro at first in place of the banged up Richie Sexson. The insertion of Vidro at first and placing Broussard in left field as Raul Ibanez mans the DH spot indicates that a piece is missing from the M's offense. As the team seems determined to keep the slow-footed Vidro in the line-up, batting right after Ichiro to ensure any potential rally is nullified by Vidro grounding into a double play, it doesn't make sense to compound things worse by having the empty bat of Raul Ibanez bat third in the line-up behind Vidro. I've been vocal of the fact that I'd prefer that Broussard was the designated hitter prior to the season started, and if the Mariners can just realize that its time to bring Adam Jones up to the big club, as his bat would provide an offensive injection that could lead to a positive carry-over to the playoffs, then Jones would be able to man the outfield position rather than a player out of place, such as Broussard, or has no clue how to play the position, such as Ibanez.

Ignore the 17-3 pasting of the M's on Tuesday. That was made possible by the weak offerings of Ryan Feierabend, who despite tossing five lucky shutout innings against the Blue Jays in his start, wasn't able to escape damage against Kansas City. Two starts prior, Feierabend allowed nine runs in the 16-1 pounding by the Reds. In two starts out of three, Ryan was lucky enough to allow 19 earned runs in four innings, an obvious sign that he needs to return to AAA and develop his skill set for the majors. But then the question would be who would replace him? A return to Cha Seung Baek's middling skill set? Who else might be available on the triple-A level? Too bad Adam Jones doesn't pitch...

Feierabend's performance marred a series of otherwise outstanding M's starting pitching. Felix Hernandez allowed two runs in eight innings, while Washburn topped that with his eight shut-out innings yesterday. Adrian Beltre's bat helped grant Washburn the victory yesterday, as he went 3-for-4 with the two-run double that knocked in Broussard and Jose Guillen. Those were the only hits Beltre picked up in the series in ten at-bats.

Now its off to always tough Oakland, where the M's face the A's top four pitchers. In a best case scenario, look for a split, but who knows how likely that is.

End of an Era, kinda


And so Mike Hargrove leaves.

As anyone who's read this blog on a regular basis- all five of you, that means- would know of the disdain I hold for Mike Hargrove. During his brief tenure at the helm of the Mariners, he made questionable strategical choices, poor judgement of players' ability resulting in increased playing time for undeserving players and vice-versa, and over-all set the bar of low expectations for the entire team, never seeming able to create a result from the aggregate portions of the team.

A good manager can instill a drive from a team leading to results that defy expectations. Hargrove's managing style certainly lacked passion or emotion, and almost seemed resigned to accept subpar results from their team. As I've pointed out before, as a manager, Hargrove is nearly a cipher in the dugout, with the caliber of his players or the decisions made by the front office defining him, rather than the other way around. He rose to prominence- and the World Series- as the manager of some insanely talented Cleveland Indian clubs, but was it his managerial skills that led to the team's success, or the collection of talent that the Cleveland front office collected during the 1990s? The Baltimore Orioles teams had a pretty good collection of talented players as well, and were a team that had reached the playoffs shortly before Hargrove's arrival. But three consecutive late-season collapses helped turn that team into a laughing stock (coupled with the ineptitude of Baltimore's front office) and Hargrove was chased out of town by irate Baltimore fans, to eventually show up in Mariner teal a year later.

As manager of the Mariners, Hargrove played the role of the care-taker, shaping and molding this current version of the team, which could more accurately be referred to as Bill Bavasi's team. He played a conservative, careful brand of baseball which, besides the rare poorly timed call for a bunt by Jose Lopez, relied more on what the players did well rather than what they could do. As such Ichiro ran and hit and Richie swung from his heels at everything. More often than not there appeared to be a lack of an indelible stamp on this team, similar to the effect predecessor Bob Melvin had on the Mariners. In short, after nearly a decade of being influenced by the fiery temperament of Lou Pinella leading to a run of playoff appearances, it has appeared that the Mariners have been led by managers taking a snooze on the clubhouse bench, with results to match.

And so Hargrove is gone, and perhaps by leaving the team now on his own terms, he may be doing the team a huge favor. For as he's no longer associated with the team, the Mariners no longer run the risk of succumbing to Hargrovitis, and dropping 35 of their last 40 games or anything of that magnitude of ineptitude. It's preferable this way, as it casts all the parties in a positive light. Despite his faults as a manager that won't be realized by those that don't closely follow the Seattle Mariners, Hargrove comes across as the paragon of decency, walking away from the game he's known for nearly four decades because his heart hasn't (obviously) been into it for some time, and he gets to spend time with his family. With the compliments he gave the m's front office, and the sentiments returned by Bavasi, the organization comes across in a good light, despite the questionable decisions made by Bavasi and Co. that any close Mariner fan would be able to list. And the emotions expressed by John McClaren, the bench coach who is now the new M's manager- with no 'interim' designation- provided the human stamp on yesterday's news, as he was obviously conflicted at taking the managing job he's always sought, but not wanting to move in and replace a friend at mid-stream. Especially when that stream is an eight-game winning streak, continued with yesterday's 2-1 win to finish their second consecutive home sweep, this time of the Toronto Blue Jays.

What kind of manager will McClaren be, and what kind of personality will he affect the team with? Who knows, but at yesterday's press conference, McClaren said he had a "lot of Lou" in him, which hopefully will translate in a fiery, passionate level of play by the team. If they've been playing .667 ball over the past month with a manager who's been a sleep-walking zombie, what kind of results will the team be getting with a manager who's 100% involved?

Oh, and the game yesterday provided its own set of dramatics, besides the obvious subtext of the last game being managed by Grover. A second consecutive pitching duel by the two teams- this time provided by a match-up of Jeff Weaver and Shawn Marcum- resulted in a scoreless tie through six innings before Frank Thomas Frank Thomas led off the seventh inning with a solo home run. However, that was all the Blue Jays were able to manage, as Weaver relied on a variety of arm angles and ball speeds to keep the Blue Jays off balance, contributing his third consecutive quality start by allowing just one run on seven hits through eight innings. Keeping it close allowed the Mariners a chance to catch the Blue Jays, as Jose Guillen single-handedly won the game for the Mariners, and Grover, with an eighth-inning solo home run, and a ninth-inning RBI single, which plated Beltre with the game-winning run. With his 1-for-3 day, Beltre's average ended the game at .259.

After their fantastically successful 10-2 twelve-game homestand, the Mariners take their show on the road, with their first step at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, with their first match-up against old friend Gil Meche, who is now a newly-minted All Star. Meche has split two decisions against the Mariners, in the last one allowing seven earned runs in just over four innings last May. Ichiro and Guillen have hit home runs off Meche, while combining to go 8-for-18 (.444 average) against him. However, Beltre and Sexson have combined to pick up just four hits in 19 at-bats against Meche.

Felix Hernandez takes the mound for the Mariners, and if he's able to stay away from the early-count fastballs that opposing hitters eem to wait on (thus leading to an opposing average against of .304 so far this season) Felix should be bale to have a similar outing as he did against the Pirates a couple of weeks back. In 13 career innings over two starts against the Kansas City Royals, Felix has allowed three earned runs and struck out sixteen as he has dominated the Royals to win both starts. Felix has allowed no home runs and only two extra-base hits out of the twelve collected by Royals hitters against Felix.

So expect a low-scoring affair, but with the Mariners coming out on top in their first game maanged by McClaren. I see the final score along the lines of 6-1.

From the "What the Hell" Department:



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